Dr. Jess on Marriage as a lifesaver

Dr. Jess shares five strategies to stay happy and healthy in marital bliss

Looking to preserve your health? Diet, exercise and lifestyle are of paramount importance, but so, too, is the state of your marital union. In fact, research suggests that a stressful marriage can be as damaging to your health as smoking cigarettes.

A recent study found that couples in bad marriages are at higher risk for heart disease than those in happy relationships, and the results are most pronounced for older women.

These findings echo those of previous studies that indicated a positive correlation between marriage and cardiovascular fitness, mental health and life expectancy.

Studies have shown that marriage decreases the risk of vascular disease and metastatic cancer diagnoses by 12 and 17 per cent respectively.

But relationship satisfaction is key to reaping marital rewards. One study charted survival rates 15 years after coronary bypass surgeries and found that marriage increased survival rates threefold for men, and happily married women had an 83 per cent survival rate versus 28 per cent who were in unhappy unions and 27 per cent who were single.

The institution of marriage alone may not be a lifesaver, but the associated habits — eating well, maintaining strong social networks and seeking medical treatment — can prolong your life.

A happy relationship can reduce stress, lift your spirits, boost energy and improve sleep to stave off ’til death do us part.

Singles, however, need not rush to the altar. Active lifestyles and positive social and family ties also support health and longevity.

If your marriage isn’t quite as happy as you’d like it to be, fret not. Kick off the new year with these healthy strategies:

Create a “happy jar.” Studies suggest that showing gratitude is good for your health. Each day write down one good thing that happened and place it in the jar. You can share the memories together.

Compliment your partner. Compliments not only boost self-esteem for both the giver and receiver, but positive reinforcement can increase dopamine levels to improve your mood and help shed inhibitions.

Touch more. Most of us are touch deprived and missing out on the associated mental and physical health benefits. Even if you’re not in the mood, a hug, hand hold or snuggle can help to elevate your mood and foster feelings of affection.

Listen to music you love. Research confirms that music can change your mood, so compile a playlist that makes you smile and get lost in the melody of happiness.

Walk the dog together. If you don’t have a dog, walk the cat. If your neighbours will judge you for walking the cat (can you blame them?), walk the kids to school or take a stroll to revel in the emotional, physical and sexual rewards of physical activity.